April 25, 2007

A Spot of Bother

A few months ago I watched with amusement and admiration as Peter Chattaway and Jefferey Overstreet responded to attacks on how they review films, both secular and Christian. Less than a month after that, the reviews that Randy and I write for the YellowJacket came under heavy fire in the form of a series of increasingly angry e-mails from a LeTourneau professor to our editors (and cc'd to the Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs).

The e-mails arrived just in time for spring break, and as they singled me out specifically multiple times for comment (Randy was pointedly ignored throughout the exchange, even though we wrote the reviews and responded to the e-mails together) we were given free reign to defend ourselves. There were three e-mails to respond to, and they got successively longer and more high-pitched (for lack of a better term).

At this point, the less I discuss them, the better. I am still infuriated and deeply upset when I think through the whole thing. Randy and I worked on a response for several days, with help and input from a few of our friends. We wanted it to be reasonable, respectful and above-reproach, and when we finally sent it off it seemed like our best chance to start a dialogue.

The response we got was a blow-off. Randy was again ignored, and the professor claimed to have no interest in talking to me (as a graduate), but preferred to talk to "current members of the YellowJacket staff." To have the gall to attack me multiple times in such a highly accusatory fashion and then say "I don't care to hear what you have to say" . . . well, I had to struggle to get beyond just seeing red. The overall response was extremely high-handed and holier-than-thou, and obviously not in the least interested in an honest discussion. There was an assumption that any argument I made was automatically invalid within the context of LeTourneau's community of "adolescents" who "smell of hormones."

In fact, the tone of the entire correspondence, while indicative of an admirable compassion for students (credit where credit is due), was even more indicative of a total lack of respect for them. These words were from someone speaking to children, someone who expected to be listened to and obeyed, not someone who was genuinely interested in opening up a topic for mature discussion between adults.

The feeling I get sometimes about having this kind of dialogue outside of the Church or Christian community is that some Christians feel we should be presenting a united front. So, can we discuss it amongst ourselves? Heavens, no! This is supposed to be a Safe Environment. It's full of weaker brothers. Even we even so much as talk about this stuff, you'll have them stumbling left and right.

Randy and I talked with our editors and decided to end the correspondence there, as this individual was obviously not deserving of the effort and feeling we were wasting in a fruitless discussion. The editors, in a move that I personally felt was rather too kind (although it was also motivated by concerns regarding space), printed only the initial, somewhat sane, letter that had been written to them. I have little doubt that, had the student body caught wind of the tone of later letters, the response might have been vociferous and decidedly unkind.

I, meanwhile, requested and received permission to write an editorial about offensive content in the movies and a responsible approach to it. This was not intended in any way as a response to the letters to the editor . . . I had already responded to those. Rather, I felt that if there were any validity to the concerns about the impact of our movie reviews on the LeTourneau community, this would be my "word to the wise" for anyone who might be troubled. I was slightly dismayed when my editorial was presented as a "counterpoint" to the printed letter, particularly since I knew how the professor who wrote the letter would take it, but I was glad to have the message out there.

Since the publication date, I have received no word from this professor (although I more than half-expected an angry e-mail in my inbox the day after). However, I have gotten word from multiple sources that the new plan of attack is to malign the paper from the safety of the classroom, where dissent is unlikely and easily managed. That sounds like an abuse of authority to me, but I'm not really up on professorial ethics. Well, two can play at that game. I, at least, shall have the decency not to name names, and the comment section is, as always, open. My time at the paper may be coming to the end, but the internet isn't going anywhere.

Posted by Jared at April 25, 2007 12:21 PM | TrackBack